A Love Story….
I first met Carl at Sunday go-to-meeting in 1959, three months before my eighteenth birthday. I saw him stub a cigarette outside his car. Sun-bleached hair, no tie, his shirt was unbuttoned on top. I overheard him say, “Pop. I can’t go in there.”
I couldn’t take my eyes off of him; that was, until his met mine. I suddenly forgot how to breathe. Only corn-fed girls gaped at boys. Working the field and shucking corn, even chiffon ribbons in my ponytail couldn’t make up for my calloused hands and broken fingernails.
My sister, Dianne, sweetly turned me toward the church doors. Blushing shamelessly, I found the empty hallway to the restroom. But blotting my face in cold water, bending over the sink, my zipper came undone. Finding it stuck, I rushed out in search of Dianne and bumped right into Carl. The church organ played. Church had started.
I held my skirt closed with both hands. In all of my life, I’d never seen eyes so blue, so penetrating.
“What have you got behind your back?” He asked, craning his neck to see.
“I thought my sister would be here.” I backed up to the wall. “My zipper’s broken. My button’s gone.”
“Let me see.” He came up close.
“I’ve got a safety pin.” He rolled his pant leg and took a safety pin that was holding the hem. “Come on. Turn around. You can’t go around like that.”
I looked down the hall and back at him. “Promise you won’t say anything.”
Carl crossed his heart so I turned around. The touch of his hand on the small of my back took my breath. He was tall and slender, his shoulders broad and square. The softness of his baritone triggered something I’d only dreamt of.
“Are you almost done?” I asked, hoping he couldn’t sense my heart beating so.
“It….” Carl bit down with a clomp. He discreetly pushed his thumb to the roof of his mouth. “It’s not broken. Something’s caught…. Your blouse is in the way.” He wiggled the zipper. “Pull your blouse up.”
“Wait. Maybe you should just pin it closed.”
“I’ve almost got it. Just move your blouse.”
I pulled my blouse out of my skirt and held it up. Exposing only what my mama had seen was something I hadn’t anticipated.
He jerked the zipper, sliding his knuckles over my bare skin. “Got it.”
Just then Dianne came around the corner. “What’s going on?”
“Dianne. My zipper broke and … and he fixed it.”
“Oh, I’ll bet,” She quipped.
It looked like he wanted to run right out of there, but followed me instead, and sat next to his dad, behind myself and Dianne.
The reverend spoke in monotones, raising the pitch in a preaching rhythm.
“Praise the Lord!” came from a voice in the third row. “Amen!” came from a voice in the aisle. I felt someone pull the ribbon from my ponytail—saw Carl’s father give it to Carl who tossed it back to me. Dianne scribbled on the bulletin, ‘Call me when you grow up. BE-6-3470. Helen,” and tossed it to Carl before I could stop her.
I slumped down in the pew, my face in my hands.
“…let us pray,” the reverend said.
Closed eyes all around, Carl headed for the door. I, behind him. Outside, he headed toward the road.
“I didn’t write that note,” I explained. “My sister did.”
He wouldn’t acknowledge me.
“Where are you going?”
He turned his head. “May as well take a walk while I’m waiting for my dad.”
“Can I come, too?”
“You’re just a kid. How old are you?”
“Old enough to work the lunch counter at Woolworth’s.”
“In that case…” He stepped right up to me and brought his body to mine, maybe to see what I’d do. “How about….” He cupped his hand on his mouth, and pulling away, seemed to reposition his teeth.
“Go on,” I chimed.
“I was going to invite you over for dinner. But you don’t want to be with someone like me … I’m only nineteen and I’ve already got false teeth.”
“You can’t even tell. How did it happen?”
“It was my own fault. I was standing on a tractor seat, driving a spike and my foot slipped just as I hit it. The hammer ricocheted back and broke my teeth.
“You’d never know it.”
We sat in his car until church let out and his dad showed up. “You must be Helen,” he said playfully, as he slid next to me. Sandwiched between Carl and his father, I couldn’t help from being as close to Carl as I’d ever been with any boy. I knew in an instant. This was where I wanted to be. This was where I’d always belonged.
An excerpt from my working novel, Where Willows Take Root, was published in The Saturday Evening Post-Great American Fiction 2021, and another excerpt was a Glimmer Train Press honorable mention.
I studied creative writing at Cleveland State University and Baldwin Wallace College, and have worked with NYT Bestselling Authors, Karen Joy Fowler, and Caroline Leavitt. One of my short stories was a finalist for the Perigee Publication for the Arts and three other short stories were finalists for The Fish Short Story Prize. My thriller, Anonymous (Loconeal Select), won the Eric Hoffer Book Award and was a finalist for both the Next Generation Indie Book Award and the Reader’s Favorite Book Award.